ad 4 Artemis

The Gilded Serpent

The Gilded Serpent presents
Dalia Carella
in San Francisco

by Bàraka

November 1998

Dalia's Background
Amorfia Productions once again treated San Francisco to a superbly planned event the weekend of November 21-22, 1998 with the presentation of the inimitable Dalia Carella in two inspired workshops and a show which exceeded even this reviewer's jaded expectations.  The core of Ms.Carella's work is her research and travel along the Romany trail for over 14 years, focusing primarily on Spain, India and Turkey.  While she originally was inspired to create her Dunyavi style in 1985, she continues to see it change and grow as she studies with master teachers and travels with the people from whom it has sprung.  In the past few years, she has begun to develop a second style of Rom dance which she calls "El Mundo", which is evolving from her additional training in a variety of Spanish and Latin dances.

Her dance training and technique are broad, and her teaching ability is such that she can reach, inspire and challenge a group encompassing levels from beginner to 'name' performers without slighting either end of the spectrum.  More importantly, she ties movement to feeling, to energy, to projection.  She honors the cultures where the dance had its genesis and the teachers who passed it down.  In short, she is an inspired (and inspiring), informed (and informative) teacher who has more to offer than it's possible to absorb in a weekend.

The Workshop
Our weekend began with a Saturday afternoon workshop in which Ms. Carella introduced elements of her fusion style, Dunyavi Gypsy ("Rom") dance, which takes its inspiration from movements of the Rom dances from India, Spain and the Middle East.  The first two hours of the workshop, she taught the beginning of a spicy and dramatic dance to "Mastika" from the CD "Best of the Sultans" featuring Omar Farouk Tekbilek.  Utilizing hand movements from Turkey and Spain, attitudes and characterization from Turkey, and turns and kick-walks from Flamenco, she created a playful and passionate interpretation of the piece that opened new vistas of possibilities for 9/8 rhythms - smooth, dramatic and totally devoid of the hopping and bouncing steps which many associate with this rhythm.

The second half of Saturday's workshop was devoted to an Oriental styling of Hossam Ramzy's "Serena" from his CD "Gamaal Rawhany".  In this piece, elegance and playfulness merged seamlessly with Ms. Carella's sense of drama and staging.  The opening segment included classic steps accented by innovative floor patterns, quick pivots and unusual stances.  A short taqsim section focused on emotional intensity, drama and presence - qualities which she has to spare.

Sunday afternoon's workshop devoted the full four hours to one dance set to "Rona" from "Alabina".  Ms. Carella took great care to explain how this piece matched movement to musical variations - Spanish and Oriental movements interpreting the different influences.  She also credits much of the shape and staging of the piece to her coach, Marianno Parra.  While the essence of the dance was Dalia's, she made clear that Mr. Parra's input helped in shaping the finished piece, bringing out the Spanish influences and suggesting changes in staging to better highlight the steps.  This piece presented a real challenge to many participants, incorporating stronger basic dance skills and concepts than many were familiar with. Footwork, turns and blocking were expansive and dramatic, slow movements and presentation required total concentration, and movement suspensions demanded a high level of physical control.  While the class time did not allow us to complete the dance, we were treated to a full - and stunning - rendition by Ms. Carella at the conclusion of our time.

The Show
Sunday evening found many workshop participants and guests at the well-known Marrakech Restaurant near Union Square.  Recently remodeled, the ambiance in this beautiful space is lovely, with low seating on divans and cushions, rugs and tapestries throughout, and beautiful murals which transport the diner to the exotic east of long ago.  The musicians for what proved to be a delightful show featured vocalist and master violinist Georges Lammam and a cadre of accomplished fellow players.  The evening's percussion section comprised Tony Lammam on tabla, Nicole LeCorgne on muzhar (frame drums) and Erena Gordon on riqq;  Anis S'heri on bass and acoustic guitars and Mourad Bshara on keyboard rounded out the group.  I found this format highly refreshing as a change from the usual seminar show, since it allowed the evening's featured performers to be fully appreciated. In this instance, the floor was given over to open dancing between star performances, and with a stellar ensemble providing the music, there wasn't a spare inch on the dance floor.

Rashid, a San Francisco local who is, in my book, one of the top male performers of this form, opened the show with a classic tray dance which showcased his incredibly precise technique - and a to-die-for assiut tunic as well.  This man has honed isolation to its finest level, and his slow split is an absolute show-stopper; I won't even attempt to describe his masterful zil work, which is outstanding yet perfectly blended with the music.  Rashid's background included many years of study and work with Jamila Salimpour, and his expertise derives in no small part from this base, while he has extended the traditional style with innovations that are particularly his and frequently marked by a subtle humor.

Rashid was followed by the evening's star performer, Dalia, in an Oriental solo, wearing a royal purple skirt and shaded veil with an asymmetrically fringed bedlah.  In performance, this woman is drama personified; she entered swathed entirely in her veil, not allowing us a glimpse of her face until well into the set.  At one moment sublimely removed, at the next fiery and passionate, then coy and flirtatious, then commanding - the audience was spellbound, never knowing what would come next.  She is simply a vision when performing with yards of silk, each gesture and shape meaningful and eloquent.  Even in an essentially improvisational setting, her comfort with the audience, the musicians and the setting was poised and utterly professional.

After a brief intermission, the musicians returned and again the floor was filled with dancers and audience members.  By this time, the audience had relaxed after a delicious meal, and were ready to let down their collective hair.  People smiling, laughing, sharing a movement; it was like attending an extended family celebration.  A brief break, and Rashid returned with a most unusual presentation of "Mashaal".  Wearing a simple black t-shirt and snug black jeans, accented with a narrow silver hip belt and cuff bracelets, he proved that costuming should quite rightly take a back seat to ability and interpretation.  He does more standing still than most performers do with an entire stage, and this self-containment is the hallmark of his style.  His ability to perform isolations of perhaps an inch and still have them completely visible to an audience is a measure of his superb muscular control.

This provided a delightful contrast to Ms. Carella's finale in a performance of what she has dubbed the "El Mundo" style, a fusion of Middle Eastern movements with Spanish and Latin influences.  "El Mundo" is Spanish for "the world", and in this performance featured exciting Mantónes De Manila (the fringed Spanish shawl) and skirt work, which she does better than anyone in this business, all carried off with a high sense of drama. Costumed stunningly by Alia Michele Tilford (the Alia of Dalia & Alia's costume design business) in a vibrant red with black lace, fringed and beruffled, she epitomized the Rom sensibility we have seen in such films as Latcho D'rom and Gajo Dillo while making full use of the theatricality a stage performance demands.  The range of emotions she projected, the abandonment she is able to execute with perfect technique, her command of the stage were all evidence of her mastery of the dance.  This is no flirty, "pretty" dance; this is naked fire, primal emotion, supported by a well-honed technique and research.  This is exceptional dance and
exceptional art.

Overall, this was a weekend of excitement and beauty, of immense value to the participants.  I particularly enjoyed Ms. Carella's teaching style. Her patience in repeating combinations until everyone could grasp the essentials meant that none were left completely in the dark.  As she wove threads from different cultures together, she carefully explained the genesis of her work, how it related to the music, and why she used it; this in-depth material left participants with a sense not only of the "how" of the piece, but the all-important "why".  Her insistence on appropriate posture and carriage was a delight to see, even though it was frequently challenging for many of the less-experienced.  However, the most satisfying aspect, the strongest impression I was left with, was her absolute dedication to raising the standards of this dance.  She understands that many students are essentially hobbyists, but she made a very clear and strong statement of responsibility; that every performer, regardless of level of competence, is representing this form to the public, and thus should treat the performance and the form with respect.  She has no patience with laziness, shoddy technique or inattention, and demands total presence in the dance, and for that she certainly gained a great measure of respect from me.  "Good enough" never happens, and regardless of our level of ability, good dance means continuing work.  Thank you, Amorfia Productions for providing a wonderful weekend, and especially thank you, Dalia, for a superb dance experience!

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